The third time isn't always the charm. And after three straight losses to open the season, Penn men’s soccer certainly must be wondering how long it will take to turn things around.
The Quakers (0-3) will have two more opportunities to finally get into the win column this week, first against Lehigh on Thursday, and again on Sunday against Southern Illinois Edwardsville.
Penn’s lack of goal scoring has been well documented. The Quakers have to find a way to replace the goals lost with leading goal scorer Alec Neumann’s graduation. Perhaps senior midfielder Joe Swenson, the lone goal scorer so far, will be the man to step up in his stead. For his part, Swenson thinks his goal could spark a return to form for his fellow forwards.
“I think the opportunities have been there. I think once we get a couple more goals I think guys will get some confidence and we won’t have any problems up top,” Swenson said.
Coach Rudy Fuller has expressed confidence in his forwards, citing an increased balance of goal-scoring ability with the emergence of sophomore Aramis Kouzine to fill in Neumann’s vacated role. With the exception of the Swenson goal, that ability has failed to transfer into results.
That has been the theme of the first few weeks of Penn’s season. The chances — to score and to win — have been there, but the Quakers haven’t been able to take advantage. Part of that is inexperience – Penn boasts only three seniors – but a difficult schedule has taken its toll. Like the rest of the Ivy League, Penn starts its preseason activities a week after the rest of the NCAA, meaning the Quakers enter the season comparatively less prepared than their opponents. Additionally, Bowling Green, who beat the Quakers 2-0 last week, is now ranked 19th in the nation.
“I think people are really starting to click and get a read on each other,” Swenson said. “We’ve been talking about just getting some momentum. Once we get one good game behind us we’ll build on that and see how far we can take it.”
On the opposite side of the pitch, Fuller might have created a goalkeeper competition when he started junior Scott Forbes for the first two games and classmate Etan Mabourakh for the most recent one. Fuller suggested that he viewed the two as both being top goalies, and gave no indication of which would play in the upcoming games against Lehigh (2-2) and SIUE (2-3). This, however, this was not an issue for Fuller last year: Mabourakh was the clear starter for the Quakers his sophomore year.
For this week's matches, the Quakers face two formidable opponents in the Mountain Hawks and Cougars. Both teams will have played Ivy rivals prior to their matchups with Penn: Lehigh beat Cornell last week, while SIUE faces Princeton on Friday.
Both of Penn’s opponents feature top goal scorers that could trouble the Red and Blue back four. Lehigh’s Mark Forrest has four goals and an assist in only four games played, while SIUE sophomore Lachlan McLean has four goals in five games.
If Penn can manage to stop Forrest and McLean, the Red and Blue have to feel good about their chances of victory. Lehigh’s defense in particular has been somewhat porous, allowing a goal and a half per game on average.
All it takes to turn the current slump into a positive run is one win, as Swenson pointed out. Despite the recent struggles, the upcoming seem like a good chance for the Quakers to finally return to their winning ways.
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